Immigration Law Romantic Comedy makes up a very exclusive subset of the chickflick genre, and there’s a new kid on the block. Great White (North) Hope Sandra Bullock’s “The Proposal” arrives with heavyweight credentials and high expectations for box office punch.
A Canadian über-bitch book editor threatened with deportation strong-arms her assistant into an arranged engagement; complications and frolics ensue. Almost two decades ago, Peter Weir constructed his own little Valentine to New York City and unlikely romance when a Frenchman’s marriage of convenience and “Green Card” is threatened by an official immigration investigation. These immigrants are adorable, and they want to stay forever. Which begs the question: If no American falls in love with an illegal immigrant, does a tree fall in the woods? Or something like that.
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In “The Proposal,” dancer turned choreographer turned director Anne “27 Dresses” Fletcher doesn’t miss a romcom convention trick here; any over-initiated romcom afficianado can count them off as they accumulate like smashed bugs on the roadtrip windshield. The awkward set-up, the unconvincing animosity, the charged first kiss, the forced sharing of sleeping quarters, the omnipresent and insipid old girlfriend, accidentally seeing each other naked, the makeover, the tragically wrong choice of shoes, the requisite dirty old lady, the perverted foreigner, the overly aggressive pet, the rescue, the aborted wedding, the multi-vehicle chase, the proposal/declaration of love before co-workers/family. Check. Check. Check please.
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The Defending Champion
In “Green Card,” Australian Peter Weir wrote and directed this romantic comedy tailor-made for its stars Gerard Depardieu and Andie MacDowell, featuring a marriage of convenience already in place; Georges needs a green card and Brontë’s Edenic greenhouse of a penthouse apartment rents only to married couples. Their marriage a mostly forgotten fait accompli, Georges and Brontë lead entirely separate lives, both independently functioning adults with lives and friends and families when the movie begins. Oh sure, Brontë’s earthbound beau may not be entirely worthy of her, but she’s a bit of a stuck-in-the-mud wallflower herself. It will take an idiosyncratically romantic suitor/wildman to bring the roses to this daffy horticulturalist’s cheeks, and Georges is just the Frenchman to do the job.
Sandra Bullock is a canny actress and even cannier movie star, still a few years away from hitting the romcom wall; in “Proposal”, she looks positively ravishing. Her much-touted and intricately choreographed (if hamhandedly plotted) nude scene is clever and classy/modest, concealing as much as it reveals, and her legs and body are ridiculous. Still, the force of her irresistible charm and personality doesn’t quite disguise the thinness of the character she’s given to play. Another in a seemingly endless parade of supposedly intelligent career women who do nothing to prove they’re capable of even tying their own shoelaces, we learn precious little about her: Margaret can’t swim, her parents are dead, and while she’s a leadpipe bitch on stiletto-ed wheels, underneath it all beats a (yawn) heart of movie-style mush. Ryan Reynolds delivers a more perplexing co-starring performance; I’m not sure he possesses the quirky star quality that could elevate material this generic. While he brings a certain foursquare adequacy and decency, no matter how many talk shows and magazine covers he graces with his personal charm and six-pack abs, onscreen there’s just not much there there.
Mary Steenburgen has precious little to make of her mother/wife role, and Craig T. Nelson plays a diffidently grumpy smalltown tycoon villain dad. Betty White makes the most of an atrociously conceived nonagenarian; one wishes she had been left to adlib the dirty old lady role she plays so winningly on the talkshow circuit. Denis O’Hare struggles to make the most of the thankless officious villain; in films, immigration/government officials are the stock bad guys, lip-licking martinets and chinless sadists.
Every breadcrumb that gets dropped on the way into this thicket of chickflick conventions gets served up whole in short order, as reliable and packed with no-surprise as a home-baked loaf of slightly stale cornbread. The crumbs are clumsy slices, delivered in italics. If Grammy finds out the truth, she’ll have a heart attack. If the dog gets outside, an eagle will snatch him. If that creepy Hispanic guy shows up in one more cameo, I’m calling Immigration.
“Green Card” doesn’t quite telegraph its intent or tip its ending. In order to convince immigration officers that theirs is not a marriage of convenience, Georges and Brontë move in together and of course, they start to fall in love. Still, it works slowly; these romantic leads are pricklier than most, no garden-variety romantic leads. These characters are specific, well-drawn and multi-faceted. There’s neurosis here and personal history, the sense of life interrupted by burgeoning and ill-advised romance and duplicitous farce. Georges and Brontë are hardly meant for each other; they share virtually nothing in common but their marriage. Their obstacles are real, and the feelings and complications land with more gravity and less easy resolution than in the lightweight confection “The Proposal.”
Immigration officials test the realities of relationships with a series of questions that reveal precious little but detail, a sort of “Newlywed Game” asked for the privilege of residence, inclusion, and citizenship.
“Green Card” celebrates New York City with a real woozy affection. This New York is populated with eccentrics of every age and every ethnicity; the New Yorkers are citizens of a greater world. Perhaps it takes a foreigner to get the melting pot of New York exactly right. I should confess, Gerard Depardieu may be my favorite actor of all time, and this may be one of his finest English language performances. With lovely turns in “Four Weddings And A Funeral” and “Green Card,” Andie MacDowell earned her a much-coveted seat in my personal pantheon of RomCom SuperChicks.
Perhaps what we love most about romantic comedy is the lovely lie at its very center. That presence, or rather, proximity makes the heart grow fonder. Alas, were this simple formula the case, arranged marriages would work swimmingly, and divorces would be rare. In movies, all it takes to fall in love is familiarity and recognition, a few randomly chosen and carelessly shared details, a glimpse into family life for instance or the revelation of a tattoo or family tragedy. It’s a lovely fiction that all it takes to be loved and lovable is to tell all. To be known is to be loved. That’s what women want to believe. If we talk long enough, someone will know us and love us, and they’ll stay.
People are going to go see “The Proposal.” I can’t stop them and, truth be told, I don’t even want to. It’s stupid and it’s predictable, but no puppies or old ladies were actually killed while making it. Besides, Sandra Bullock has earned her fans, and they will not be disappointed. I’ve seen way too many mediocre chickflicks in the past couple of years, and they’re starting to melt together like a box of chocolates left in the Southern California sun. I’m probably more burned out and critical than most. Still and all, if you’ve got a hankering for a date night movie that won’t leave you wanting, I heartily recommend you rent “Green Card.” It pre-dates all the formulaic drivel the studios have been grinding out like so much sausage in the two intervening decades, and it sets a standard most miss by a This-Is-My-Country mile.